Archive for April 2011
The recently released HS2 Ltd bird’s eye impression of Curzon Street from above, gives a new angle on these shortcomings. The station is also revealed as a charmless steel box – a throwback to the failed reinvention of the city centre in the 1960s.
On April 21, the Birmingham Post reported that “the 1838-built Grade I-listed frontage of Curzon Street station would be “the main entrance” to the Curzon Street HS2 terminal (and gave a different artist’s impression of the terminal, by Glenn Howells architects). However, the HS2 Ltd artist’s impression suggests that the Cumbernauld style entrance over Moor Street would be the principal access. The 1838 Curzon Street building is lost alongside, and overshadowed by, the massive steel box of the terminal platforms.
Because of the £17 billion cost, it’s almost inevitable that the air rights above the platforms would be sold, but that doesn’t figure in either view. In Birmingham, exploitation of air rights took place at both New Street and Snow Hill stations, and the consequences of this are abundantly clear to anyone who has set foot in them.
Westbourne Communication, an ‘opinion changing’ PR firm supporting (new build) high speed rail, posted on the power of third party endorsers. The idea behind it is that if something said by person ‘A’ is backed by third parties ‘B’ and ‘C’, its trustworthiness or validity is raised.
This goes some way towards explaining the phenomenon of multiple separate PR campaigns for HS2. In the West Midlands alone, Birmingham City Council, Centro, High Speed 2 West Midlands, and Go-HS2 have all undertaken support activity for it. But these activities are not ‘grassroots’ campaigns, nor are they independent of one another. It’s a form of shilling, with the targets of this PR activity unlikely be to be aware of the links between the organisations orchestrating it.
seeking funds to counter opponents of the £17bn project to build an ultra-fast rail line between London and Birmingham, warning that the naysayers have a £1m war chest. Professor David Begg, former chairman of engineering firm Tube Lines and non-executive director of airport group BAA, launched the organisation last month following a dinner attended by the transport secretary, Philip Hammond, and senior transport industry figures.
In an email to attendees, Professor Begg asked each company that joins the not-for-profit body to contribute £10,000, alleging that the project’s “vociferous” opponents have amassed a £1m fund. It is understood that major public transport groups with UK operations have been contacted as part of the fundraising drive.
The article went on explain that the campaign would be taken forward using a variety of channels, including social media, individual briefings, opinion polls, party-political style “instant rebuttal”, and telecanvassing of businesses, using wherever possible, the “voices of real people to articulate the practical benefits of high-speed rail.”
It seems odd for Mr Begg to be denigrating opponents of HS2 ‘as rich Nimbys with a £1 million war chest’, while running a campaign that’s looking for £10,000 contributions from businesses, and operated with professional PR support. Generally, businesses are looking for a return on their investment, yet at the time of writing, the Campaign’s website gives very little information about how it is run, and how supporter-contributors influence it. The only “real people” involved seem to be interns looking for an entree into the world of public relations.
There are at least some transparency rules in place regulating donations to, and operations of, British political parties. So it’s anomalous that the workings and influence levers of politically controversial corporately funded campaigns, remain completely invisible.
In January I looked at the practice of high speed rail operators in Europe charging premium rates for travel, and contrasted this with Greengauge 21‘s pronouncements about ticket pricing on HS2 (“there will be not be premium fares”).
In general, fares on very high speed trains should be higher than conventional ones, because of the increased costs involved, and the higher externalities.
From the Wall Street Journal:
Experts have questioned the safety of China’s high-speed railways. An executive at a non-Chinese high-speed train manufacturer said running trains above speeds of 330 kilometers an hour poses safety concerns and higher costs. At that speed threshold, wheels slip so much that you need bigger motors and significantly more electricity to operate. There is also so much wear on the tracks that costs for daily inspections, maintenance and repairs go up sharply. That’s why in Europe, Japan and Korea no operators run trains above 320 kilometers an hour
Tickets for Chinese high-speed trains can be twice as expensive as the highest-class tickets on regular-speed trains. In the same article, Sheng Guangzu, head of China’s Ministry of Railways, stated that
“Trains operating at 350 kilometers an hour require twice as much energy as those operating at 200 kilometers an hour”
It follows that if users of very high speed trains are charged the same as users of conventional trains – when the costs of these services are very different – there must be additional subsidies allocated to the high speed rail users. So in practice, “no-premium-fares-on-HS2” means users of conventional trains subsidising the consumption of high speed travellers, through higher fares. A sort of ‘Robin Hood in reverse’ situation.
The Midland Main Line is the principal railway connecting London’s St Pancras station, the East Midlands, and South Yorkshire. The portion between Bedford and London, electrified in the early 1980s, has significant commuter traffic to and from the capital, with Thameslink trains continuing via Blackfriars to destinations south of the Thames, including Brighton. Although most long distance trains are operated by Bombardier Meridian and InterCity 125 formations, extensive use of 125mph (200 km/h) appears more of a Network Rail aspiration than a reality, although that linespeed is mentioned as existing in Network Rail’s Route Utilisation Strategy.
Investment in the MML has not matched levels seen on the West Coast or East Coast Main Lines, and decisions on electrification of the main line proper (i.e., beyond Bedford) have been placed on the back burner. Since 2008, the prospects for significant upgrading of the MML appear to have receded, due to the state of the public finances, and politicians’ seeming overnight conversion to new-build high speed rail. The £17+ billion High Speed 2 line has been at the forefront of government transport policy, with investment in MML almost nowhere to be seen.
In its response to the government’s consultation on HS2, high speed rail lobbyist Greengauge 21 has backed a link from HS2WM near Birmingham to the existing cross-country line to East Midlands and South Yorkshire, although there’s no detail given as to how this would work. According to HS2 Ltd, the new-build Coleshill to Euston trunk would carry 14 trains per hour in each direction, without any paths allocated to London – Derby/Nottingham/Sheffield traffic. Besides, routeing such trains over HS2 would make no sense in carbon emissions, Greengauge 21 provides no usage projections, and no-one seems to know where the East Midlands station would be. I suppose if you’re blindly devoted to an idea, details like these don’t matter.
In commissioned work for the Department for Transport, W S Atkins have presented MML electrification as part of a package of measures for comparison against HS2. The order of events following the Labour government’s conversion to new build high speed rail was: (#1) set up the HS2 project and HS2 Ltd, then (#2) commission some reports showing that (#1) is the correct course of action. In essence, Atkins were tasked with demonstrating the inferiority of upgrading MML and other lines, compared with Adonis/Steer.
One of MML’s advantages is the existence of stations close to Derby, Leicester, and Nottingham city centres. Yet, as demonstrated by the vacillation that preceded the announcement on Great Western electrification beyond Didcot to South Wales (and its truncation at Cardiff), prospects for significant development of the MML appear to be darkening, in the face of political fascination with the grand projet, in the form of Adonis/Steer high speed rail (and its parkway stations remote from city centres).
Because the Midland Main Line has a fair amount of spare capacity, it could be used to augment the range of services between the northern England and London, at a far lower cost than £33+ billion involved in building HS2 to Manchester and Leeds. In the 1960s, the Midland Main Line was used by fast trains running between Manchester and London, travelling through the picturesque Peak District (also providing Manchester with a direct link to Derby and Leicester).
Following the electrification of the West Coast Main Line, the St Pancras – East Midlands – Manchester services were discontinued, and the line north of Matlock was closed down. Although the original Mancunian terminus for the MML, Manchester Central, has long been re-purposed, it would still be possible to recreate a Manchester to St Pancras train service, and give the East Midlands a credible rail connection into the North West. The route through the Peak District is essentially intact, and (part) used by Peak Rail’s heritage trains.
Given the political will, electrification of the MML could be implemented at relatively low cost, especially if existing rolling stock were re-used as part of the process. Provision of a pantograph car for the Bombardier (currently diesel) rolling stock has already been discussed. It’s also known that large numbers of InterCity 125 carriages are fit for modernisation (i.e., power doors, retention toilets, additional facilities for disabled people).
New electric locomotives combined with rakes of remanufactured Mark 3 carriages, could be part of the environment-friendly alternative to the run down, diesel operated MML future offered up by HS2.